I am part of a few online groups for spouses of physicians, and the other day, one lady asked for the prayers of other members for her husband. She spoke of the challenges in adjusting to life beyond residency. For those of you unfamiliar with the career paths of physicians, residency is training in a specific field of medicine that comes after the four years of medical school. Residencies can be as long as 7 years for fields like neurosurgery, and most are at least 4 years long. Some physicians go on to do fellowships in very specialized fields. My dear husband’s residency was five years long, and we did a lot of “keeping our eyes on the prize” to make it through that time. I think we were aware that life after residency wouldn’t be all sunshine and lollipops, but like anything else in life, we weren’t fully aware of the unique challenges facing us until we actually got there. As I responded to my fellow doctor’s wife in the group, I felt like I knew many of the unspoken things for which she and her husband needed prayer. When a handful of other group members “liked” my response, I thought it might be worth making a blog post out of it, to perhaps bless some other doctors’ spouses as they also make this transition, and to remind myself of the importance of praying! Although some struggles are unique to those in the medical profession, I imagine many of them are also common to those starting anything new and staying strong as they journey through!
Here was my response to that prayer request: “Praying! For healthy partnerships professionally, for them to give their burdens of responsibility to Jesus, for humility coupled with confidence in God, for success in new ventures like new offices, for constant listening for God, for you as a family to lean on each other as you seek God together. My husband has just started his third year in private practice, and we are still adjusting and realizing how desperately we need Jesus all over again, all the time…”
For Healthy Partnerships
Joining a private practice is a lot like getting married. A doctor needs to weigh many factors before deciding which one is the “right one”. Personalities must mesh. Call schedules should be fair, as should future ownership in the practice. There are many details that might seem inconsequential, but if one of those details goes awry, it can make for a miserable work environment. If all of those details match up to what the physician is looking for, all the doctors in the group are freed up to focus on what’s really important: the health of their patients. I have been praying for the relationships my husband has with everyone he works with, from office managers, to nurses, to the other docs in his group. I pray, furthermore, that he can be a light wherever he is, to share the love of God that he knows, and to always work with honesty, integrity, and excellence.
To Give Burdens to Jesus
When I stop to consider the heaviness of all my husband and other medical professionals take in each day, even each hour, I am weary. I think of Jesus and how throngs of people would crowd around him, wanting healing and freedom from sickness or pain. I think of how a mere touch from our Lord could take away serious, lifelong medical problems, and how with the power of God the Father, Jesus even raised some from the dead! Of course, my husband and other modern doctors do not have this sort of power. They use technology, tools, and scientific knowledge to perform surgeries, prescribe medicines, and treat illnesses. These things have their place, but as believers in God, we know that He alone can heal. We have heard stories through the years of patients defying all expectations and becoming well, or making it through a surgery that didn’t go as planned. We call them miracles. What about those who also defy expectations, but in the other direction? What do doctors do when their patients get worse, or die? I have seen my husband seem to have the weight of the world on his heart when this happens. I can offer no words that will comfort him, I can only pray and listen and love. The burden is not his to carry. Yes, he needs to use every ounce of his knowledge and skill to help each patient. However, the power does not rest in him; it is God who “gives and takes away”. Now, I’m sure I could write volumes about why there is suffering, pain, and bad things happening to “good” people, but that is another topic. I will only say this, that our world is wracked by the effects of sin, and that there are many, many things that we will not understand on this side of heaven. Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest…For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28, 30 NIV)
Humility Coupled with Confidence in God
This goes along with giving burdens to Jesus: no physician (and no person) is strong enough to carry the weight of what he or she does alone. Humility in the dictionary is the quality of being modest and respectful. Confidence is the quality of feeling certain about something, of knowing on what or whom we can rely. I believe this is a truly tough one for physicians especially, and even more so for surgeons. If a surgeon goes into a procedure looking meek, uncertain, or downright terrified, what patient or medical staff will trust him (I’m sticking to masculine pronouns for simplicity’s sake; I know many capable female surgeons!)? Meekness does not equal humility, and arrogance does not equal confidence. Just as meekness is not a desirable trait in such a profession, neither is arrogance. I venture to say that the medical world has come to expect and perhaps even encourage arrogance, but as Christians we know that our confidence must not be in ourselves, but in our Lord. What a joy, what a relief, to know that our God can do all things! It is such a delicate balance to strike, and that is why I pray this regularly for my dear husband.
For Success in New Ventures
There has been a surprising amount of business savvy necessary in my husband’s career. Not only was he the “new guy” needing to build his portion of the practice with a solid base of patients, he also has had an opportunity to spearhead the opening of a new branch of the practice in a neighboring town. He has literally gone door to door of other physicians’ offices to introduce himself, and the practice, in hopes of some good referrals. It took much prayer and a leap of faith on our part to decide to sacrifice five busy days a week at the existing offices, to go to a new office a few times a week, hoping it will pick up speed and thrive! My prayer is always that we will be open to the “new” things, knowing that we are putting our faith in a faithful God.
Listening and Leaning
Someone we know recently posted a question on Facebook, about whether people believed that God “spoke” to them, interpreting the meaning of “speak” in what way they would. I can say confidently that yes, I have “heard” God speaking to me. It might not be in audible words, but every time a certain verse, idea, or individual comes into my mind constantly in a short stretch of time, in a variety of forms, I believe that is a way that God communicates with me. I also know that God has given me warnings, reassurances, and inspiration through dreams. That being said, I always pray that my husband and I would be good listeners–that we would be ready to hear what God has to say, and equally ready to act in response. Professionally speaking, I can think of one time we happened upon an infomercial about a specific medical ministry that performs a certain kind of surgery in underserved places. By the time the commercial was over, there were tears in both my eyes and my husbands’. That ministry had come up in conversation before, and I have a feeling that’s not the last we’ll “hear” about things of that nature! Sometimes the plans and ideas we have for our career path need some tweaking or maybe even a complete turnaround. Not only must we listen together, but families need to lean on each other. I absolutely love when my husband asks me to pray for him, or tells me a story about his day when we are alone together in the evening. God does not desire for us to go through life alone. Not all will marry, but everyone needs someone to share joys and trials. As a doctor’s wife, sometimes I feel like I’m not the right kind of person for my husband to lean on. I’m too weak, too selfish, too needy. But God isn’t. My job isn’t to hold up someone else’s burdens, but to bring that beloved person to God, who can take the weight. Leaning on each other ultimately means we are walking together to lean on Jesus.
A special note to wives of medical students: let your husband study as much as he needs to. Know that “your turn” for his undivided attention will come. He loves you, he wants to do well so he can provide for you. He feels a tremendous pressure to succeed, and to make each test, each course, count. Support him in prayer, in word, and in deed. It is hard to put oneself last. It goes against our nature. But we can, and we must, when we remember that Jesus put himself last for each of us.
A special note to wives of residents: this is a particularly rough part of the journey. This is where my husband became something of a lost sheep for a time. God nudged me constantly to pray for him, and now that we’re on the other side, my husband has said how truly priceless my prayers were. Residency for him meant nearly no time to nourish his body, spirit, or mind. Running on empty for that long is almost impossible. Without the grace and protection of God, he might still be a wandering sheep. We are all prone to wander from the fold of God. When we are distant from God in our hearts, for whatever reason, we tend to wander even farther from the goodness He desires for us. Pray, pray, and pray some more. Also, remember that this is all temporary.
A special note to wives of physicians who have recently finished residency: rejoice, be thankful together. Keep your eyes on Jesus. The world has much to offer, but its riches fade and do not fulfill. Remember the days of little when there is abundance. Keep asking God how He wants your husband to use his gifts and calling to medicine. And keep praying. Bloom where you have been planted, even if you are not where you’d hoped or expected to be!
This is far longer than I’d planned. I suppose I could write a book on our experiences as a couple as we’ve journeyed through applying to med schools all the way to being in private practice. At least, I could write enough quantity to fill a book; as for the quality, I’ll keep looking to God to give me the words. Blessings to all.